As superintendent of one of New York City’s poorest regions, Kathleen Cashin has raised test scores significantly in three years. She isn’t empowering principals to do their own thing, observes the New York Times. She’s making them do her thing, which includes using the Core Knowledge curriculum and teaching students to read non-fiction and write essays.
â€œWe are relentless,â€ Dr. Cashin said in a recent interview. â€œThe secret is clear expectations. Everything is spelled out. Nothing is assumed.â€ She provides her principals, for instance, with a detailed road map of what should be taught in every subject, in every grade, including specific skills of the week in reading and focus on a genre of literature every month.
. . . â€œYou need to expand the knowledge base, expand the vocabulary, expand the experience base, and that only comes with good instruction and a rich curriculum,â€ she said.
Every school in Region 5 uses a graphic organizer to teach children — starting in first grade — to write a five-paragraph essay.
While the cityâ€™s reading program focuses on story books, Dr. Cashin layers on lots of nonfiction. And, responding to research showing that impoverished children often lack vocabulary and basic facts, she has adopted a curriculum called Core Knowledge, which teaches basics like the principles of constitutional government, events in world history and well-known literature.
The superintendent is using proven tactics for educating high-need students: Raise and clarify expectations, put money where your goals are, strengthen curriculum, teach knowledge and skills, give students structure. The stress on writing is interesting. In my newspaper days, I interviewed a test specialist who said the most effective way to raise test scores is to develop students’ writing skills; it even helps with math because students learn to think logically and sequentially.
The Times frames Dr. Cashin as an insider who’s “bucking school reform.” The story uses Region 5’s success to criticize the idea that bringing in outsiders and empowering principals are what’s needed to shake up the system. Surely, she’s an insider who’s become a mover and shaker of the status quo. How many strong, innovative leaders survive the district bureaucracy?